By Janet Smith
Office of Public Affairs
JMU's outstanding football Dukes weren't the only team to represent the university in fine style on the Bridgeforth Stadium field and in the national arena during the 2008 season. A record-breaking 474 JMU students filled the ranks of the Marching Royal Dukes band to play their hearts out to support the football team and to take their show on the road all the way to New York City.
Band members had to engage in their own form of gridiron competition to earn one of 400 spots in the big halftime show.
"It's the largest band we've ever had," said Scott Rikkers, assistant director of bands and director of the Marching Royal Dukes. The band's history dates to 1972 when JMU established a football program.
"We've been revitalizing the program over the past couple of years and I think there's definitely renewed excitement about the program," Rikkers said. "I also think, of course, the Macy's trip was a big draw."
"The Macy's trip" was the 82nd Annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade® in New York City, which drew millions of viewers on the parade route and on NBC television. One of 10 bands performing in the Thanksgiving classic, the Marching Royal Dukes marked their second parade appearance. In 2001, when Rikkers was a graduate student working with the band, the Marching Royal Dukes represented JMU in the 75th anniversary Macy's parade.
"With JMU's centennial, what better way to celebrate on a national scope than to feature the band program on TV," said Rikkers. "It's good for the school, it's good for the state, it's good for the kids."
The Marching Royal Dukes played "76 Trombones" and "1941" along the parade route before and after performing "Sing, Sing, Sing" in Herald Square. The band marched out of the square to the strains of the "JMU Fight Song."
Contributing to the record-size band were 320 returning band members. "I'm glad to have that because they're the strength of our program—they are the tradition," Rikkers said.
Membership in the Marching Royal Dukes is open to all JMU students, regardless of their academic majors. In fact, about three-quarters of the band members are not music majors, Rikkers said. "It's a big commitment," he said. Band members came to campus in mid-August to prepare for the performance season and continue to practice as a group from 5 to 6:30 p.m. at least four days a week. Game days include an additional morning practice at Bridgeforth Stadium.
And every week, band members had an opportunity to challenge about 400 "permanent" members for a place in the halftime show.
"We have a set number of marchers for our halftime show, based on our instrumentation, to create a well-balanced group," Rikkers said. "It's a tough compromise because we want everyone to be involved. Everybody marches in our pregame show. But for the halftime performance, just because of size, and again instrumentation, we have to limit it slightly."
"The group of alternates is an integral part of the band," Rikkers said. "They raise the bar, raise the level of expectation."
In addition to performing at home JMU football games, the Marching Royal Dukes played at the Harrisonburg High School football game halftime (Sept. 5), band contests at Hanover and Oakton high schools (both Oct. 11) and the Harrisonburg Holiday Parade (Dec. 5).
The band also performed at the Parade of Champions competition for high-school marching bands Oct. 18. The all-day event, sponsored by the Marching Royal Dukes, drew (How many band from where?) 30 to 50 bands from throughout Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia, New York, North Carolina, Tennessee and Pennsylvania. "It's a great event to support music education," Rikkers said of the Parade of Champions, which annually attracts 5,000 to 10,000 band members and spectators.
Mark Fifer, an arranger who works on Broadway, arranged this year's musical selections for the Marching Royal Dukes. The band's repertoire included "A Mis Abuelos," a Latin tune by Arturo Sandoval; "Nessun Dorma," an aria from "Turandot" by Giacomo Puccini; an Earth, Wind and Fire selection; Broadway tunes; and "Carmina Burana/New World Symphony."